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Stand Up for Public Education in the Superintendent Search Process

By Lauren Steiner

This evening I received an email from my friend and fellow education activist Roberta Eidman. It started like this: “We can’t continue to sit back and watch LAUSD get swallowed up-  school by school – by privatizers and charter CEOs. Finally, incompetent John Deasy was ousted; interim head Ramon Cortines wants to be out by year end. A search firm has been engaged.

Local education activists pushed long and hard to get the Board to incorporate community input into its criteria. It worked. Recruiters Hazard, Young & Attea released on online survey for anyone in the community to complete. It asks several straightforward questions about characteristics and so forth. But the most valuable section is the free form comments at the end.

Inspired, I filled out the survey and wrote the following in the comments section:

I think the next superintendent should have a lot of experience as a teacher and an administrator. I would not want this person to be a business person or someone who has been trained at the Broad Superintendent Academy.

I am very concerned about the billionaire and corporate funded “education reform” movement embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike. Race to the Top is no better than No Child Left Behind. This has created an emphasis on standardized testing to the detriment of any other type of instruction. This has also led to the proliferation of publicly funded, privately run charter schools that all the meta-analyses show do not perform any better than public schools.

There is nothing wrong with public schools and unionized teachers. In wealthy neighborhoods, the students perform excellently on standardized tests. Poor tests scores are a result of poverty not bad teachers. When kids do not have prenatal care, when they do not have good nutrition, when their parents don’t read to them at night, when they have to walk through gang infested neighborhoods – these factors are what makes it hard for kids to learn and perform well on tests.

I see nothing wrong with certain reforms like breaking up the school district into smaller districts. Often, it is large bureaucracies that create problems. I see nothing wrong with LAUSD affiliated charters, where the teachers are unionized and credentialed. My own son went to one of them. I see nothing wrong with pilot schools.

I do see something wrong with letting billionaires, who can get a 39% tax credit for investing in charter schools in a low income neighborhood thus doubling their money in seven years, have an outsized influence over education policy in this city. I think Eli Broad’s plan to turn 50% of LA’s schools charter in the near future is nothing short of diabolical.

I see something wrong with counting broom closets and classrooms where teachers sit after class grading papers as “empty classrooms,” so they can allow charter schools to co-locate in public schools. This has led to situations where public school students are literally separated from the co-located charter by a fence, and the students are seen peering over that fence at the charter school kids with the small classes and all sorts of materials that the public school kids have. And then these charter schools, which are required by law to take all kids, figure out a way to dump the special ed kids or the kids with behavioral problems into the public schools creating two tiers of education in the same building.

I see something wrong with letting private companies like Apple and Pearson collude with public school administrators to sell in hardware and software so they can make money by selling products. This could very well lead to replacing professional, experienced teachers making a good wage for their work with minimum wage classroom monitors. This is already happening with the proliferation of Teach For America “teachers” whose only qualifications are five weeks training over the summer.

Education is not a business. It is a public institution which must not be privatized like so many other public institutions, services and resources have been in the neoliberal society we live in today.”

I hope anyone reading this who feels as Roberta and I and so many other parents, teachers and children do about this attack of the privatizers on public education will make your voices known through this survey and through other means. To keep informed, like the Vet the Supe Facebook page and join our community.


Lauren Steiner is grassroots activist and organizer who has worked with Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, the California Clean Money Campaign, the Occupy movement, Food and Water Watch, Hunger Action LA, the LA Food Policy Council and many other groups. She fights the privatization of public institutions and public goods. She plans protests, organizes citizen lobby meetings, speaks at conferences, writes articles and produces videos. She has focused her work on fracking, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, net neutrality and community choice energy programs. Currently she is the lead organizer of Los Angeles for Bernie Sanders trying to get him elected and advance the political revolution he is calling for.

Grassroots Superintendent Searches By and For Public School Communities

The disastrous reign of former Superintendent John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) ended after public inquiry into his 1:1 $1 billion iPad deal forced his resignation for alleged cronyism and bid-rigging. Ongoing investigations by the FBI and SEC into his business dealings with Apple and Pearson show what’s at stake when the selection of a school district leader skips over a thin resume or underwhelming record.

Now the same “civic leaders” who were John Deasy’s cheerleaders want a say in finding his successor. NOPE.

A movement in LAUSD sprang up to ensure that a search for his replacement does not suffer from the same secrecy and lack of vetting. We need parents, community leaders, school board members, students, teachers, and administrators to speak up about the important qualities a school superintendent must have to be an education leader. We seek proven experience, not hype and patronage from wealthy philanthropists. This is true in Los Angeles, and this is true around the country. Let’s make our debate about the merits of candidates for Superintendent one that school boards must take into account no matter the size of the school district or its location.

It’s time to choose only those superintendent with proven track records as excellent educators, prudent financial administrators, and collaborators in leading public school communities. The wrong superintendent can cause untold waste, fraud, and abuse of the public trust and of public funding intended for the education of children. Join us no matter what part of the country you’re from!